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Equipment update: Over the years, I have tried many new types of fitness equipment and have reported my experience with some of the better equipment in this column. Just a little over a month ago I received a pair of "Exerlopers," a spring-type running shoe from the NordicTrack Co., and have been using them since that time. The shoe part of the Exerlopers is very similar to those used for in-line skating. The lower part is a springlike assembly designed to give the user a bouncy up-and-down motion that is not only fun, but decreases the shock to the legs associated with running on hard surfaces. I will discuss my experience with the Exerlopers in terms of safety, training effect, wear and usability.
Safety. My greatest concern when I saw the Exerlopers related to stability. Since the shoe portion is about 6 inches above the ground and stability usually decreases as the distance from the ground increases, I thought it might be easy to sprain an ankle if the weight got even slightly off center. However, my concern was unfounded. Because the springs give way easily as body weight is applied during running, the shoe descends to only about an inch above the ground and is actually quite stable.
The Exerlopers are less stable while you are standing or walking downstairs because of the height of the uncompressed spring unit, but as you begin to jog, they compress and stability increases. The instructions make it clear that Exerlopers are not designed for playing basketball or other sports, and they warn users about attempting to make sharp turns.
I tried running on every conceivable surface and found them to be quite stable, even on dirt or rocky surfaces. However, they work best on asphalt or cement sidewalks and roads. There was no problem running across curbs or other obstructions, but you need to use a vertical up-and-down motion wherever you run.
Training effect. It was easy to get my heart rate into the training zone using Exerlopers. In fact, during the first few runs I ran with a longer stride than usual and had to stop several times to get my breath. I soon learned how to run more slowly and began to really enjoy the slow bouncing run that matched my fitness level. I actually ran less distance using the Exerlopers in any given period of time. This was probably due to their increased weight as compared to regular running shoes and because there is more up-and-down motion compared to regular running. I had difficulty walking on the Exerlopers; they need a bouncy motion (such as slow jogging) to compress the springs and make them work properly.
Wear. It is difficult to evaluate wear in only a month, but the bottom track is made of a tough-looking rubber tread that held up well during my initial evaluation. There was a small amount of wear on the outside rear corner - the same place my running shoes get most wear. However, the tread looks like it can be slipped off and replaced easily. My experience with NordicTrack is that replacement parts are relatively inexpensive and easy to get.
Usability. I enjoy running with the Exerlopers and they brought lots of comments from other exercisers. Exerlopers come with springs that match your individual weight, because it is important that you collapse the spring as you run. The only drawback I noted is that Exerlopers cannot be used in very cold climates or subfreezing temperatures.
This limits their use in Utah, because we do have cold weather. For more information concerning this product, call 1-800-445-2209.
Garth Fisher is director of the Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young University.
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